Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Liberal Ethos of Intolerance

Indulge me for a moment and imagine me wanting to be friends with someone who voted for Obama. If you know me, you realize it's insane, because nothing is more important to me than Israel.


And to me, voting for Obama was akin to signing Israel's death warrant. Especially in light of the Iran agreement just signed.

Yet, that didn't stop me from looking up an old friend from childhood whom I knew would have voted for Obama, because growing up, she was the ultimate liberal. She was passionate and feisty and cared about society.

I remembered these things about her and wanted to reconnect. I liked these things about her. I didn't think our political differences would much matter were we to reconnect, because I didn't expect someone like her to really understand my perspectives on Israel or on other issues. And I didn't think I had a chance of making her understand these things.

And that was fine with me. There was still plenty left for us to base a friendship on. We both loved music and photography. We were (I thought) both basically kind and decent people.

The rest was chaff, or so I thought.

One Blip

We did reconnect and things were fine. There was one little blip where we spoke about politics and things went south. But we agreed we'd keep politics out of our friendship and all was well, until she dropped off the face of the earth.

Just stopped corresponding.

Finally, I asked, "Did I do something to offend you?"

Ann Coulter??

And she said she'd made the mistake of reading some of my blogs. That not only am I a racist bigot, but a racist bigot along the lines of Ann Coulter.

At first I tried to deny her accusations. And I told her to remember our friendship and how our hearts still speak to each other, as friends. But I soon realized she'd closed the door. She relished letting me know why she was cutting me loose and how she felt about me. That was the passion in her I was seeing: the passion that I had always liked in her. This time, the strength of her feeling had ME in the spotlight and not in a good way.

I didn't have the strength to fight. I didn't see the point. But now, several days later, I just can't stop thinking about this schism, how unfair it is, how wrong it is.

I want to prove to her that I am not that racist bigot. And the truth is, I really AM NOT a racist bigot. Take for instance, a certain Facebook note I reissue from time to time, when people who really ARE racists, get too free and easy with their epithets on my wall. Here is the text of that note, which I entitled My Ground Rules:
This short note is intended for sharing with new friends and to serve as a reminder to old friends that I appreciate respectful debate, but that I do not care for hate speech of any kind. This includes derogatory nicknames for people in office, and for those of different colors, religions, or political parties.
I don't like this sort of speech and feel it is unnecessary. If you do it at home that's your choice, but please don't do it on my wall.

I get that sometimes it's hard to know where to draw the line. In general, vulgarisms are unacceptable. If you must, use asterisks. I don't like explicit talk on my wall, either. I have children who peek in on occasion. Keep it clean. Don't use nicknames that distort the first syllable of the First Lady's name into the sound an animal makes. I just don't see why this is necessary. It's disrespectful of her station and an American institution. I don't like her. We won't be BFF's. I may even think she is evil. But the nickname is still unnecessary.

About Islam: I get that we need to draw the association between Islam and terror. Believe me, I get it. But I still don't appreciate people trashing Muslims in general on my wall. Criticize the ideology.
People, listen up! I live surrounded by hostile Arabs in disputed territory. I have had friends killed or maimed by Arabs. I have had friends whose children were murdered by Arabs.

I am also well aware of what it says about Jews in Islamic texts, though I consider this a learning process. Still, I dislike hate speech. It's just rude. And it adds nothing to our bank of knowledge.

I may warn you once or twice if you fall into hate speech, but not thrice. If it continues, I will have to unfriend you, something I don't wish to do over poor word choices.

Of course, some of this is subjective. Sometimes a friend will object to a phrase I find perfectly acceptable. We can always talk about this and arrive at some sort of understanding.

The fact is, I miss polite debate. I think of my wall as my "salon" where we can all exchange views respectfully and with intelligence, each according to his or her own perspective.

I love that and it's the reason I spend so much time on Facebook.

Please respect my wishes and don't make me warn you.

Seriously. Does that sound like something that comes from the keyboard of a racist bigot? I'm dying to send her that. Let her read that and know the truth about me. I want to send it to her and say, "Note the date."

I want to defend myself.

And I keep going over it in my head, all the arguments I would use to defend myself, if only she would listen.

But that's exactly the point. She won't listen. And this is what bugs me about the liberal ethos.

Now note that I did not say, "This is what bothers me about liberals."

No. My objection is not with people, but with an ideology that divides people into two camps: Us and them.

This friend and I had warmth and a connection. She could have used this to try and reeducate me, if she really thought I was this terrible racist bigot (which I am not). She could have used our friendship to contribute to healing a social ill.

But she preferred to hate me. She preferred this to be about her and those who think like her, against those who don't.

Now that smells an awful lot like intolerance to me. And that is what gets me so upset.

I don't think about the world in terms of Us and Them or Republicans and Democrats or CNN versus Fox News. That's a LIBERAL construct. I think about the world in terms of all of us are humans with the same basic equipment and feelings.

I think of my job as connecting to others and being a force for good. I want people to tell me when I'm totally off-base, but I want them to give me a chance to improve, instead of writing me off.

Unless a person is truly evil, I think all people deserve a chance, when they ask for a chance. I don't understand why my friend thinks she is superior to me, so superior that she must cut me off and hurt me. And I feel like this damages something in the cosmos, this sort of attitude and behavior.

I am not going to play a game here and prove my tolerant "creds" by telling you about this or that Muslim, Lesbian, or Black friend. Because in the end, this is immaterial.

What matters is that she didn't listen to me, or to her heart. She didn't avail herself of an opportunity to make the world a better place by teaching me how to be a better person (if she thought I was a wretched miserable example of a human being). She just wanted to hate me. Took great pleasure in the act, in fact. Loved me asking her what was wrong so she could tell me how horrid I am.

I do not admire whatever it is that makes humans behave this way. Especially not when the Liberal Ethos includes the idea that those who espouse this ethos are tolerant.

In my experience, those who adopt that ethos are anything but tolerant.

Perhaps not every person who bows to the god of liberalism prefers divisiveness and hatred of the other to doing the real work of healing the world by talking to people and making them see a different side of things. I hope so. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

Meantime, I am hurting inside, left stuttering, "But, but, LISTEN."

And with a gleam in her eye, that passionate gleam I know so well, she refuses.

Point blank.

UPDATE: After I discovered that this piece caused offense to the anonymous person about whom it was written, I decided to take the piece out of circulation. But then I had second thoughts. I think the message is too important to suppress for the sake of someone who chose to be my enemy instead of working things out with me and accepting that people have differences. All these years later, it's a good solid piece, it's thesis still unfortunately valid.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Repairing the Rent in the Walls

The walls of Jerusalem were breached on the 17th of Tammuz, in the run up to the Destruction of the Second Temple, on the 9th of Av (T'isha B'Av). The breach of those walls has been acutely felt ever since as a time of Divine Judgment. It's a time when observant Jews are cautious to avoid situations which might invite calamity. You wouldn't, for instance, schedule elective surgery during the Three Weeks.

You can avoid elective surgery and push it off to September. But there is nothing you can do about the terrible karma all around you. Tempers get short. People get nasty with each other.

It's in the air.

At home, parents are urged to be extra gentle with their children. Behaviors you'd normally punish with a timeout? Well, you just let it go, or your kids is going to unleash a waterfall of tears. A disproportionate response to a timeout? Not during the Three Weeks when God's attribute of "din," Divine Judgment, is all around us.

Everything feels acute, more raw. More real.

It's as if that breach in the walls of Jerusalem was echoed by a rent in the Heavens through which God's Divine judgment surges through, a Divine pointed finger, seeking out infractions and shortcomings to punish them with needle-sharp jabs of psychic pain.

Something like Zeus here at 15:12 (l'havdil):

It's just the way it is every year at this time.

So we're not surprised when friends lash out at us for no reason and when all manner of snafus occur, messing with our daily lives until we're ready to snap.

The only way to deal with it, to get through the Three Weeks with one's sanity intact, is to flood the world with positive acts; acts of kindness, acts of greatness, acts of unconditional love.

This week, things were hard. Several people lashed out at me with terrible and uncalled for hostility. 

Let me tell you: I suffered.

But I didn't suffer alone. I put it out there and the good people, the ones who understand that we need to be extra gentle this time of year, reached out to me. Each time someone said a kind word or did something nice for me, it felt healing. It felt like they were repairing that breach in the walls of Jerusalem, that rent in the Heavens.

Ricky answered my request for a ride to the protest at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. The protest was against the planned demolitions of Jewish homes in Beit El. It was good to do something for my people and my nation. I met bad with good. I showed up to be counted with those who care. I waved a sign and nodded thank you to those who drove by and honked their support.

Ricky and I get each other. It felt important. It WAS important. More important than the nasty few people who targeted me this week.

It was an antidote.

And while I was there, my neighbor Jocelyn, from across the street messaged me to come do yoga with her the next day (this morning). When Jocelyn spends time with you, it's like the sun breaking through the clouds in the morning. I had that to look forward to last night even as more nasty people came at me online to cast their nets of vitriol and poison upon me.

And I also reached out to the people who care about me on Facebook and my friend Lisa made me this image to remind me that I am strong and can get through anything. I made it my profile picture.

I LOVE this picture. And I love Lisa for taking the time to make that for me, just to cheer me up. To show she cares.

There's more. There's Leora, who checks in on me to make sure I'm okay. Always staunch. Always on my side. I can say anything to her. 

And Toby, who reminded me what I needed to remember: that when people hurt you, it's YOU who miscalculated. They didn't betray you. They just never were who you thought they were.

They were only being themselves.

And Michael who finally wrote and asked, "What the heck is going on?" and listened to me vent and reminded me I'm not the only one with tzuris (trouble) and used a phrase I've been repeating to myself on and off all day long: "Try not to own other peoples' bad behavior."

And this morning, I finally made it over to Myrna who has lost a lot of weight and looks fabulous. She has beautiful clothes that are now too big for her, and she knows I will appreciate them. As she ushered me in, she saw something in my face and I told her about the nastiness of some people and the kindness of others, how the Three Weeks were turning out to be especially difficult this year.

She knew what I meant. How, when people are mean, there's that pain that lodges in the chest and won't budge. Myrna told me something Rav Avraham Twersky said. That low self-esteem is like a sunburn. When you have a sunburn, you can't stand the merest touch on your skin. But when your skin is healthy, even a little patsch* won't hurt.

Yes. That made sense to me. I know it's not normal that I can't shrug things off like most people. The problem was with ME. I have a big ole sunburn.

As Myrna left me in her bedroom to try on her beautiful cast-offs it occurred to me that it had been one year since we'd met, seated next to each other as we were on the bus ride home from a rally in Tel Aviv for our three boys, Eyal, Gil-Ad, and Naftali. Only the next day did we find they had been brutally murdered by terrorists on their way home from school. But the two weeks leading up to that discovery was a time of tremendous unity among our people.

And now? On this day?

What Myrna did, offering me those clothes, the meaningful words of advice, offering me KINDNESS. It was an echo of that time.

It was healing. Comforting. It made me feel that yes: Our nation will be whole, will heal, will prevail and rebuild.

Dov picked me up to bring me home and as we pulled up to the house, our neighbor Rachel passed by with a plate of brownies supported by a magazine. She asked how I was and I gave the perfunctory answer that I was good, Baruch Hashem, but I wasn't fooling her. She said, "It doesn't look like everything's okay, from the way your face looked when you said that."

So I told her. How people were being mean and nasty. How I was fighting to not let it crush me. How I went to the protest last night and how it helped. She said, "You know what I'm doing?" and I looked at the plate of brownies and the magazine.

"Thursday is my only day off and I'm so happy. Because my friend had a hernia operation and since it's my day off, I can bring her these things and visit her."

"You're doing something," I said. "Something good."

"Exactly," she said. "It's what we're supposed to do. Especially during the Three Weeks. I waited all week to do this."

And she hugged me with one arm—she wasn't going to let go of that plate of brownies with the Redbook supporting it from below. Because especially now? During the Three Weeks?

You gotta hang on to your mitzvahs.

*Yiddish: Slap

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Of Sabras and Spats and Other Three-Week Stuff

The sabra is a prickly pear native to Israel. Here is a photo of a sabra.

You cannot just swoop down and pick a sabra fruit because the darn thing is covered in needles that will get under your skin. But inside, the fruit (when ripe) is juicy mush with a taste so sweet it's cloying.

Israelis are called "Sabras" because they are tough and untouchable on the outside and tender on the inside. They can be rude and abrupt, snide and downright nasty. Like cactus needles, they'll get under your skin and not in a good way. Not like this, for instance.

But a Sabra will volunteer his seat on the bus to an older person or a pregnant lady or to anyone with an infirmity. He'll do that without being asked and without a second thought. Israelis will do anything for you when you're in trouble or in pain.

Because Israelis are tender at the core.

I'm not a sabra, because I wasn't born in Israel. And yet, in a lot of ways I fit the description. People tend to see me as a tough cookie and in some respects I am. I've been through a lot and I'm still standing. It takes a lot to make me cry. I don't gussy up my writing. I'm not girly-girl.

On the other hand, I don't know how to shrug it off when people hurt and insult me. When a friend is suddenly not a friend and will no longer talk to me (and this has now happened to me twice within the past five months), I can't say, "It's your loss," and walk away.

It's a problem. It's more than a problem. It's so big it supplants everything else and makes it impossible for me to go about my everyday business. It's this huge chunk of big blue grief sitting on my chest from the inside, hurting me with everything its got.

That's actually okay right now, because it's the Three Weeks. It's a Jewish mourning period in which we mourn the Destruction of the Temples. We're supposed to be introspective and sad. We're supposed to be gentler in our dealings with others and with our children. Because our feelings are raw.

The Three Weeks

And it's real. Every year the Jewish month of Av comes in and things get freaky and nasty. People are short-tempered and bad things happen. Every year. Like clockwork.

So it's kind of okay that I'm hurting inside. Because it suits this time of year. On the other hand, it's not okay at all. That I'm hurting inside.

And here is why:

The kind of hurt I am suffering is a wound dealt me by two Jewish women--Sistahs in my Nation. And that is why it is NOT okay.

Not okay at all.

Every religious Jew worth his salt knows the reason the Temples were destroyed. It's called: Baseless Hatred. 

Kamtza And Bar Kamtza

The story that everyone knows that best illustrates baseless hatred is the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, a tale from the Talmud (Gittin 56). There was a man who decided to throw the party to end all parties in his hometown of Jerusalem. He wrote up a guest list and sent his servant to deliver invitations.

One of the guests on the list was a dude named "Kamtza." Unfortunately, the servant made a big oopsie and instead of inviting Kamtza, he invited his boss' worst enemy: BAR Kamtza (close but no cigar).

All Smiles

Bar Kamtza got that invite and he was like the happiest guy on earth to think that the guy giving the party had finally forgiven him. But when Bar Kamtza (all smiles and joy) got to the party, the host saw him and went livid. He instructed his servant to throw Bar Kamtza out of his home.

Bar Kamtza figured it out: There'd been a mistake.

He was mortified. He went up to the host and quietly pleaded with him to allow him to stay. "Please let me stay. I'll be so embarrassed if everyone sees you throwing me out," he said.

"Tell you what. I'll pay for my meal. However much it cost. Just PLEASE let me stay."


But no. The host of the party would not hear of it. He was FUMING. Practically FOAMING at the mouth.

Bar Kamtza tried again. "Okay, okay. Let's just find a way to make this work. I'll pay half the cost of the entire party. Just. . .please. Let me stay!"

But the host just said, "No! LEAVE. Like YESTERDAY."

By now, Bar Kamtza was getting kind of desperate. He said, "Look. I'll pay all your costs. I'll cover the whole party. Just don't do this, Man. Don't do this to me."

He Wouldn't Budge

But the host just wouldn't let go his hatred and anger. He just wouldn't budge from his fury. And he had Bar Kamtza thrown out of his home.

Nice story, huh? Anyone could relate.

But no. We're not done. The STORY isn't done.

Here's what happened next. Bar Kamtza was hurt and upset and embarrassed. Everyone had been at that party. The greatest rabbis of the time were in attendance. And not one of them took his part. Not one of them spoke up on his behalf. They just didn't want to touch that.

So. Messy.

They looked away, pretended not to hear, whatever. You know?

Lava And Heat

Inside, Bar Kamtza was all lava and heat. He was furious. He thought: 'In their silence, those rabbis were complicit in what was done to me! They approved!'

He thought they approved of the way he had been embarrassed in public in such a nasty public way.

Bar Kamtza was consumed with hurt and anger. It filled him up. It was everything, those feelings: his anger at the rabbis, who failed to support him when clearly he was IN THE RIGHT.

So you know what he did? Bar Kamtza? He went to the Romans and told them all kinds of stuff about the Jews. He told them the Jews were plotting against them, trash-talking them, and doing all kinds of things to undermine Roman authority.

That was all the excuse the Romans needed to attack and burn down the Holy Temple.

And we've been paying for the damage ever since. Everything that happens to us, antisemitism, the Holocaust, BDS, the UN condemnations, everything flows from there.

You could look at what happened, at the actual chain of events relating to Roman rule and the kind of stuff that Josephus documented. The everyday things that lead to war.

But that wasn't what destroyed the Temple. It was hatred by Jews against Jews for no reason whatsoever. Bar Kamtza wanted to work things out. But his host stonewalled him and there was no reason for that. Bar Kamtza was making a show of good faith. He wanted to make things right. The two had once been friends!

Simply No Reason

Bar Kamtza was a Jew, speaking to a Jew from the heart. And the unnamed host of that party did a terrible thing in not responding in kind, in locking him out, in subjecting Bar Kamtza to public ridicule out of simple stubbornness. There really was NO REASON for this.

When someone tries to resolve things in good faith, you see, he should be met with openness and kindness and a willingness to work toward repairing what is broken.

Every minute that passes in which this does not happen is a rent in the fabric not just of the two Jews in question but of the ENTIRE JEWISH NATION AS A WHOLE.

When you hurt me, you are hurting US, the Jewish people. Kol Yisrael areivim zeh b'zeh (Shavuot 39a). All Jews are responsible this for that (for each other).

Read My Lips

No Jew has the right to lock out a fellow Jew who wants to try to make things right. No Jew has a right to inflict that sort of pain, embarrassment, and damage on another Jew.

The right thing to do is to sit down and work things out. Or at least to TRY to do so. Until it is clear things cannot be worked out. At that point, you can agree to disagree. And be mature and move on.

But back to Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. We know what destroyed the Temple. We also know how to fix it--how to repair the damage. It's by giving your unconditional love to your fellow Jew. Love without reason. Love without end.

Love for love's sake.

An Obligation

And it's not just that we know HOW to fix the damage, it's that we are OBLIGATED to fix the damage: to work things out. To love each other and be kind and nice to each other, whatever it takes (Chafetz Chaim: Maamar Ahavas Yisroel, Chapter 5).

So how do we know it's just not happening, this sort of unconditional love between Jews? It's like this: you go to Jerusalem and you get to the Kotel, the Western Wall. You look up and you see: NO TEMPLE.
Look up: No Temple.

Nope. It's not there. And it's not there because baseless hatred exists. Because Jews are not speaking to each other, not working things out, not making things right.

It's just a rent in the fabric of our nation growing wider and wider apart every time a millisecond ticks by. And this is serious stuff. As Jews we are all obligated to the act of making things whole again. No one is off the hook. Each one of us must examine ourselves and our relationships and see what needs fixing.

We each of us need to do that and fix it NOW. It's an obligation incumbent on all of us, all the time.

You're The Reason

If you don't do it: if you do what that host did, and refuse to work things out, even though Bar Kamtza was willing to meet him so much more than halfway, then you are the reason the Temple is not rebuilt. You are preventing the redemption of our people.

By the same token, if you love your fellow Jew and relieve him of his internal agonies, his emotional grieving, and you show him love just because. JUST BECAUSE.

It will be as if you are building the Temple.

Brick by solid brick.